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How do I find out if I'm bi, or not?

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Pandas_Arecute asks:

Hi! I am a 15 year old female and I think I may be bisexual, I have talked to a couple friends (who are straight) that I trust, They either said "It's just a phase don't worry" Or "There is only one way to know and that is to have sex/kiss another female." But I don't know any lesbian girls to do that with! I'm pretty sure it's NOT a phase but I need to know how to find out if I'm bi or not. My school/parents are not very accepting of lesbians, bi's and gays, so I wouldn't be able to talk to my parents. Another thing is I'm secretly sort of wanting to do something with a girl. Please help me!I feel so lost!

Robin Mandell replies:

Have all of your straight friends had sex with a guy if they're girls, or with a girl if they're guys? If not, how do they know they're straight?

See how silly that is? Hopefully they will, too. It's not sage to make orientation something anyone needs to "prove" with sex for a whole lot of reasons. Not only does that add something pretty dehumanizing to people's intimacies, sexual orientation is about feelings, not actions. It's about what sexual or romantic feelings we have with or about people in terms of their gender. If we do or don't have sex with those people -- or do with people outside any given gender group we feel attraction towards -- doesn't prove or disprove anything about our or anyone else's orientation.

A bisexual person is usually defined or self-defined as either someone who can be or is attracted to men and women alike, or potentially to someone of any gender, though not always at the same time. Sometimes people think that bisexuality means being attracted to everyone at once, or just everyone, period, and feel fear and mistrust of bisexuals because of that. While there certainly wouldn't be any reason to be fearful or judgmental of someone who earnestly was attracted to the whole wide world (what's so scary about someone who thinks everyone is loveable and sexy, anyway?), for most bisexuals, just like for everyone else, attractions to people of any given gender are usually about more than their gender, and attraction to a given gender usually means to some people of that gender, not all people.

A bisexual person also isn't always attracted to each gender equally or in the same way. For example, a woman might be attracted to women most of the time, but occasionally find men attractive or experience an attraction towards a specific man. Or, a bisexual guy might find that he feels stronger or more frequent emotional or romantic feelings towards men, but stronger or more frequent sexual attraction to women.

It is frustrating that people dismiss things that they don't like or believe in, or that are inconvenient for them (or that they feel scared of) as being "just a phase". That said, your bisexuality could be just a phase, but not in the way that your friends mean. And the same is true of your friend's heterosexuality. The same is true of any aspect of sexuality for anyone, not just our orientation.

Sexuality is what we call fluid. Think about water, how it's always moving, changing form based on the temperature around it and other factors like wind.

Sexuality is kind of like that. It can change based on where we are in life, what's going on with us, or random factors that we can't really figure out. So, if a type of sexuality is a phase for one person, it's a phase for everyone. If bisexuality can be a phase (and it can), so can heterosexuality. That sexual fluidity applies just as much to people who identify and live as straight. I'd say, though, that your friends saying this is a phase probably isn't so much about them understanding all of this as it's about biphobia - a fear of bisexuality or bisexual people - or heteronormativity, which is a giant word that basically means the belief that everyone is inherently straight and the action that society being set up for straight people as a default.

It's pretty interesting, isn't it, that no one questions straight people on how they know they're straight and yet people automatically come up with reasons why someone who has a different sexual identity or orientation really doesn't have it. I recently had a conversation with someone on our message boards who was concerned that something was wrong with her. She recounted very clear instances of being attracted to girls, and was very clear that she mostly isn't attracted to guys, and yet it felt easier to her to say there was something wrong with her, to doubt herself, than to claim an identity as a lesbian. She expressed these concerns as being about what other people would think of her. While what other people think of us does, to some extent, impact what we choose to do on a daily basis, it has no place in us claiming our own sexual identities, even if we have to make the decision, based on societal attitudes, prejudices, or biases, not to share those identities with everyone in our lives.

Sometimes people worry that they aretoo young to know they're gay. Lots of people say this to young people, too. Think for a moment, though, of how we (we as society, not we here at Scarleteen) encourage young children with positive feedback in their pursuit of boyfriends and girlfriends, how we set up their heterosexuality from the very beginning of their lives, even before we actually want them to have serious relationships or to be engaging in partnered sex. Expecting people who identify as queer in some way to only be able to establish their queerness through sexual experience is a double standard--and, it's not accurate. It's also part of that heteronormativity I brought up earlier.

Here's what the American Psychological Association has to say about young people and sexual orientation:

"Sexual orientation emerges for most people in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. And some people report trying very hard over many years to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual with no success. For these reasons, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation for most people to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.

People also often think that being gay or bisexual is just about sex, but the reality is that relationships for gay or bisexual people involve all the same things as relationships for straight people do, including (or not) romance, friendship, family relationships, fun, hard decisions, and yes, sex. If your friends don't need to have sex with guys to know they're straight, then the same needs to apply to you with women.

It sounds like your friends have a lot of opinions about your sexuality, something which is very much your own, not theirs. But it also sounds like you're feeling pretty confused yourself.

The simple truth of it is that you're bisexual if you think that you are and that is how you identify your sexuality: that's the term for orientation you feel best reflects your sexuality as far as you know. Does the word feel right when you say it to yourself? Do you feel some kind of sexual or romantic attraction for guys and girls alike? That's all bisexuality is.

As far as I'm concerned, you're bisexual if you say you are. Other people may and will have their own opinions about someone's sexual orientation but that's all they are are opinions. No one can ever truly know or dictate how another person feels inside themselves.

One thing that you did not mention, is whether you're interested in boys. A lot of people think that heterosexuality or "opposite" sex attraction is some kind of default, and it's not. I'll get to that in a moment.

It sounds as if you're really looking for some more outside feedback as to whether you're bisexual or not. But, just like your friends can't tell you that, I can't either. That's for you to decide for yourself.

Here are some things you might want to think about which can help you better identify your orientation in this regard. Mind, this is not a diagnosis. You don't have to have a certain number of these experiences or thoughts in order to be considered bisexual, and you don't get some kind of official certificate if you click all the boxes or anything. These can just be some good places to start when considering your sexual orientation, whatever it may be.

  • Who have your crushes been up to now? Have they been on guys, girls, or a mix of genders?
  • When you fantasize, do you find you fantasize about people of more than one gender? Does one gender dominate your fantasies?
  • Does the identity of heterosexuality or straight feel strange to you, like it doesn't quite fit?

It might be helpful to see your sexual orientation as just one part of your sexuality, which is what it is: it isn't all of your sexuality, nor all of who you are. There are many different models of sexuality. One we often refer to here is known as the circles of sexuality, in which each component is a circle that intersects with each of the other components. For every person, the size of each circle, and the way they all intersect, is different. In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, these circles include power and agency, sexual health, intimacy, and sensuality. What all these components have in common is the way we express ourselves and connect with ourselves and others, as part of, but by no means all of, how we express and connect sexually. You can read more about the circles of sexuality here.

My suggestions to you, moving forward, are:
1. See if you can find a community of LGBT friendly people. I know you said that your school isn't very supportive. I'm assuming that means that there's no LBGT student group, or gay-straight alliance, but if there is, joining that could be helpful for you. You can also use a search engine to find your nearest LGBTQ group or organization for adults, and call them and see if they know of any resources for you in your area. Sometimes groups or communities exist, but under the radar, and we have to ask around a little. Even with the Internet age, word-of-mouth stills comes in handy.

Speaking of the Internet age, if you're looking for online community with other LGBTQ young people, you can visit our Scarleteen message boards.

You can also find community, plus plenty of resources, at Sex, ETC, a sex education site by and for teens.

On that note, in finding some LGBTQ community, you may well also find people you're romantically or sexually interested in, and that's okay if it happens. Just bear in mind that treating queer communities for support only like avenues for dating can leave some people in them feeling unsupported or exploited, and that we all will also tend to need community that isn't just made up of people we're sexually or romantically involved with. Again, being bisexual, or any other orientation other than heterosexual, isn't just about sex, and quite often a big part of orientation is finding like-minded and supportive community.

2. You can also think about if any of the friends you already have are a bit more thoughtful or open-minded than the friends you talked about here, or if any of these friends might be willing to reconsider the way they're treating this with you if and when you share the information we've given you here. Even just saying something like, "I really didn't feel good about the way you talked to me about this. Not only is some of what you think just not right -- it doesn't square with what we know by now about bisexuality -- it also left me feeling unsupported, and I'd really like your support. I hope that I'm accepting and supportive of your sexuality and your feelings about it, and I'd like you to try harder to be the same about mine. Could you try to do that for me?"

In reaching out to your friends, if you've previously had these discussions in groups--that is, when there have been more than two of you--perhaps try talking to folks one-on-one. It's often a lot easier to connect with people and share openly with them when there aren't a gazillion voices and opinions in the picture. At the end of this, I'm going to give you some links, and if you do have anyone in your life whom you trust, anyone who does seem to want to support you without imposing their preconceived ideas on you, you might consider sharing these with them, so they can learn even more how to support you.

3. You might also feel more informed and supported if you had a few books to give you some more information. You can see if your local library or bookstore has great books like:

  • Am I Blue? by Marion Dane Bauer
  • GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teen, by Kelly Huegel
  • Queer: The Ultimate Guide for Teens by Kathy Beige

4. You don't need to worry about this, but not for the reason your friends seem to be implying, which is that you don't need to worry because you are probably straight. You don't need to worry because whatever your orientation is, it really is okay. I know it can be tougher to feel that way if you're surrounded by non-acceptance or homophobia or biphobia, but do remember that the world is a great deal bigger than one community or one social circle. If you do come to the conclusion you're queer, and your friends and family don't come around or aren't supportive, that doesn't leave you without friends, family or support: all of that is out there for all of us, sometimes we just have to find it in different places than we first looked.

Here are some links for you, should you want to dig into this more here at the site:

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